Saturday, September 26, 2015

Yellowstone National Park

     I was excited to hit the road this fall equipped with a new Canon DSLR that my boys and husband gave me as an early birthday present.  It has an extra lens that zooms to 300mm, something I sure could have used in Alaska.  But we were headed to another great location for wildlife viewing – Yellowstone National Park.  One nice thing (among many) about being retired is that we can hit the road after most families are back in school and avoid the crowds.  We left on Labor Day and traveled to Lava Hot Springs in Idaho for a day.  The crowds all left on Monday afternoon, and we had the pools almost to ourselves on Tuesday.  Wednesday we stopped for a few hours at the Eastern Idaho State Fair which was lots of fun.  Then we finished the trip up to West Yellowstone where we camped in a RV park in the town.  We walked around town, which is basically all geared for tourists – restaurants and gift shops.
     Thursday we headed in to the loop of Yellowstone that goes to Old Faithful.  Along the way we drove by a beautiful river with fly fishermen and meadows with bison.  We made several stops also at the geysers and geothermal areas with bubbling mud and steam coming out of the ground.  In Yellowstone, the scenery of mountains and trees looks like many other places until you see steam coming out of the earth all over the place.  The stops along the road are often at places that look like another world because of the thermal activity.  Even though it is fall, there were still lots of people everywhere, but at least we were able to get parking spots in the lots.  It must be terribly crowded in summer.  Seeing Old Faithful erupt was pretty awesome.  From there we drove to Yellowstone Lake, crossing the continental divide twice along the way.  Yellowstone Lake is large and a beautiful blue surrounded by woods.  Then we headed back the same way we came.  Getting around in Yellowstone took longer than we expected because of the stops along the way to hike around the thermal areas, plus the “buffalo traffic” where everyone slows down to see the wildlife.  But it sure beats the LA freeway traffic.  At one point I would have had an excelent buffalo photo of one that was charging at our truck, but Chuck thought that getting out of his way was more important. 
     Friday we went another direction in the park to see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  The falls there were beautiful as was the canyon itself.  There are several places to park and hike out to get different views of the canyon and falls.  We also drove to one of the valleys that is known for wildlife where we saw the only bear of the trip. He was far out in the meadow, but with my new 30mm lens I was able to get a shot of him. 
     Saturday we drove up to the Mammoth Hot Springs area.  The original rock Fort Yellowstone buildings are there and used for the visitors center.  More interesting rock formations oozing with sulfur smelling water.  We drove back by completing the upper loop (about 120 miles in all) to see more waterfalls and beautiful mountains.  We also saw several elk along the way, but no moose on this trip.
     We intended to use Sunday to see the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in town, but had a change of plans.  A storm with a lot of wind was forecast for Monday, so we decided that we’d better head out ahead of it.  It was a good decision, because we beat the storm in getting home.  I’m sure we’ll be headed to Yellowstone again; it is a vast and beautiful area that we just began to explore.  
Here are just a few of the 250 photos I shot on  this trip.
Fly fishing

bison with geyser field behind

geothermal waters

Old Faithful

grazing elk

Gibbon Falls

more thermal areas

Yellowstone Falls

black bear

resting buffalo

Mammoth Hot Springs

Tower Falls

grazing elk

relaxing elk

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Alaska week 2

Oops, it took a little while (I’m a great procrastinator when it come to writing), but the second week of our Alaska trip was a whole different Alaska experience.  This week was more about wildlife, both up close and far away.  When we disembarked the ship, we took a bus from Seward to Anchorage.  It was a beautiful route up the Kenai Peninsula and the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet.  We made one stop at a wildlife conservation center where we could see some local animals up close.  Then we went on to the Anchorage airport where we picked up our rental car for the week.  We drove around Anchorage a little, out to Earthquake Park, an area on the inlet that had been at the epicenter of the devastating 1964 earthquake.  It is nicely wooded, but we didn’t walk around for too long before the mosquitoes found us.
After spending the night in Anchorage, we headed up to Denali.  We got rained on hard for a short while, but the rest of the drive was very nice.  Although you are surrounded by mountains, the drive is not mountainous, nor are you ever at a very high altitude.  We stopped at a lookout to see Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America, but it was mostly cloudy.  The mountain has its own weather system that makes it hard to see, in fact it is only visible about 30% of the time.  At the end of the four or five hour drive, we checked in to our motel just past the national park.  The next day we went in Denali National Park.  Cars are only allowed 15 miles into the park, so we took one of the busses that take you in farther.  We did the seven hour tour that goes 53 miles in.  That may seem like a long time for a little over 100 mile round trip, but that’s because you make frequent stops to observe the wildlife along the way.  Although most of it is at a distance, it was really cool to see animals in their natural habitat.  We saw several mama bears with their cubs, moose, elk, Dall sheep, and a big red fox that cut right in front of the bus.  The binoculars we’d bought came in very handy, but it was on this part of the trip that I wished I’d bought a camera with a longer telephoto lens.  I usually don’t like the bulk of a big camera, but I really couldn’t get the shots I wanted with a smaller one.
The next day we drove up to Fairbanks.  There we went to an excellent auto museum (Chuck’s hobby) that had many cars from the early days of automobile development.  It was one of the best car museums we’ve been to.  We also went to Pioneer Park that had a nice mix of old buildings and museums.  Other than that, Fairbanks isn’t exactly the nicest city we’ve visited; kind of old and run down.
On our last day at Denali we went back into the park and visited the sled dog kennels.  They are beautiful dogs that are used in winter for the park patrols.  We also managed to join the 30% club – that’s the percentage of people that actually get a good view of Mt. McKinley.  Then we headed back to Anchorage.  We got stopped for road repair along the way, and the woman holding the “stop” sign recommended to us that we visit the town of Talkeetna, a short side trip along the way.  It is a cute town of shops and restaurants.  As we almost got back to “civilization”, the highway suddenly stopped up.  We thought there must be an accident, but it turned out to be a couple large moose crossing the highway.  The next day in Anchorage we did some souvenir shopping and then went to the Alaska Zoo.  They have many animals there that are not in other zoos because they need the colder climate.  We finished up the week with dinner (food and restaurants are expensive in Alaska), and flew home the next morning.

Musk Ox

Bears at wildlife center


caribou in the wild

the vast expanses of Alaska are awesome

bear with cub in the wild

at car museum

Fairbanks pioneer park

Denali sled dogs

Mount McKinley

Moose crossing highway

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Alaskan Cruise!

I finally talked Chuck into taking a cruise since I wanted to see Alaska and that is one of the best ways to do that.  So we started our trip by flying to Vancouver, BC.  We got there a day early so we could see the city.  It was every bit as beautiful as we’d heard.  Since we only had one day, we did a “hop-on hop-off” trolley.  It toured the city as well as Stanley Park which is a gorgeous urban park on a peninsula.  We also made a stop at Granville Island to see the shops there.
The next day we boarded the Holland America Zaandam and sailed out to sea that afternoon.  We quickly fell in love with cruising; what’s not to like?  So many food choices from breakfast delivered to your stateroom, buffets at almost any hour, or fine dining with an excellent menu.  During the day there was an assortment of activities, from computer classes to cooking classes, an excellent library and gym, and outstanding scenery at every turn.  The evenings had great entertainment in the showroom which we followed up with relaxing to live music of several varieties in the various lounges, and we even did a little dancing.
Did I mention that we were headed to Alaska?  Our first port was Ketchikan.  There we went to one of the Saxman Totem Pole Park, the largest one in the area.  The rest of the day we spent browsing in the many shops and making a few purchases too.  We found that the shops had lots of reasonably priced stuff, so I was happy about that.  As we sailed out of Ketchikan that evening we passed through a strait that had lots of whales.  Mostly we saw fins and blowing, but it was fun to watch for them.
Vancouver's cruise port (Canada Place)

Saxman Totem Park

Creek Street, Ketchikan

As we slept, the ship took us to the port of Juneau, the state capital.  It is the third biggest city in the state (about 32,000), but is only accessible by plane or boat.  The surroundings are steep mountains, the Tongass National Forest and the Juneau Icefield.  We took a city tour that also went to the Mendenhall Glacier.  This glacier is in retreat (as are about 95% of Alaska’s glaciers), forming Mendenhall Lake at its base, which didn’t exist 100 years ago, at the base of the glacier.  Although the glacier has lost about two miles of length, it is still 12 miles long. 

Floatplanes abound in Juneau

and glacier ice
so do shops
Mendenhall Glacier
leaving Juneau
 Our third port was Skagway.  The town has only about 900 permanent residents, but an interesting history.  It was the beginning point for the Klondike Gold Rush in 1896-98.  We rode on the White Pass and Yukon Railroad, which was built along the route the gold seekers traveled but not completed until 1900, after the short-lived rush ended.  It is a beautiful three hour round trip to the summit and passes briefly across the Canadian border.  At the top we were in snowy surroundings with the bluest ponds of melted snow.
Climbing the mountains

the Canadian border
At the top of the pass

coming down from the pass

the other train along the cliffs

crossing one of the bridges

town of Skagway

railroad station
The day after Skagway we sailed into Glacier Bay National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Two USFS Park Rangers boarded the ship to narrate the day’s travels.  Not all cruise ships get permits to enter the park, that was an advantage of sailing with Holland America since it is one of the cruise lines that has been sailing Alaska for many years.  There are fifteen tidewater glaciers in the park, which is only accessible by ship or plane.  The most exciting part of the visit was stopping by the Margerie Glacier for about an hour.  This glacier is about a mile wide and 21 miles long, and is one of the few glaciers that is not in retreat.  The ship’s captain had told us that if we watched it, we would probably see some calving (when chucks of ice break off).  Well we hit a spectacular day of calving; the best the crew and rangers said they’d ever seen.  We saw and heard (they make a loud crash) many large chunks break off, one that was enormous.  They bay is full of ice chunks, but they are not big enough to be considered icebergs that could endanger ships. 

entering Glacier Bay National Park

approaching Margerie Glacier

splash from calving

calving ice

inside the bay

passengers obsering from the bow

From Glacier Bay National Park we headed out of the inside passage and across the Pacific for a day at sea.  We ended the day with dining on filet minion and lobster, a “Dancing With the Stars” competition of passengers that had taken the offered dance classes, and some music and dancing in the Crow’s Nest.  We arrived in Seward the next morning where we disembarked from the cruise ship to finish week one of our Alaska trip. Next week I’ll write about our land travels into the mainland.